Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers was yesterday fined £40,000 for publishing information which might have identified a sexual assault complainant.
It followed a story published by the Mail in September 2015 headlined: “Nick – victime or fantasist?” which was accompanied by a pixellated photo of them and some personal details.
‘Nick’ told the Met Police that no-one had identified him as a result of the article, but that the details included in it had the potential to do so.
‘Nick’ claimed that he was sexually abused as a child by a variety of high-profile political figures including former Home Secretary Leon Brittan and former Prime Minister Ted Heath.
His testimony prompted the £1.8m Operation Midland which led to numerous public figures coming under suspicion but not to any arrests. The investigation was closed in March this year.
Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre could have faced a personal prosecution, but in this case the CPS decided to level a corporate charge.
In March, former Sun editor David Dinsmore was convicted of breaking the same law (the Sexual Offences Amendment Act) after The Sun published information which inadvertently identified a 15-year-old girl making sexual offence complaint against the footballer Adam Johnson.
Under the act it is a criminal offence to publish anything which would identify someone making a complaint about being a victim of a sexual assualt.
Associated Newspapers pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates Court and accepted the fine and an order to pay £2,000 compensation to ‘Nick’.
According to the Daily Mail’s report of the hearing, deputy chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said the article was in the public interest, but more care should have been taken to protect ‘Nick’s’ identity.
She said (the paper reports): “The offence is serious and I am particularly concerned about the damage to public confidence that complainants’ identities will be protected.”
Clare Montgomery QC, speaking for Associated Newspapers, said: “The personal information was not there gratuitously to identify ‘Nick’.”
She said the article contained information to enable the public to understand the context of the claims he was making.
A spokesman for Associated Newspapers said: “We believe emphatically in the rule of law, and regret that on this occasion we judged incorrectly where the line should be drawn.
“This prosecution follows the closure of Operation Midland, which was robustly criticised by the Daily Mail and Mail Online.
“It is an extraordinary irony that the only conviction to result from this sorry episode, which caused such pain to Lord Brittan and his widow, and to Lord Bramall and his late wife, is against a media organisation which reported it with the objectivity so lacking in police enquiries.”
‘Nick’ has been interviewed by the BBC but his face was blacked out and his voice dubbed over with an actor.
He claimed 12 prominent individuals abused him and that he witnessed a murder.